South Charlotte

Volunteer who gives it his all

It takes hundreds of volunteers to make Bright Blessings run smoothly.

The nonprofit serves more than 3,000 homeless children each year in a variety of ways, including birthday parties - a student birthday program anonymously delivers presents and party supplies to classrooms - the Bless a Baby program, which provides baby baskets stocked with newborn supplies for babies born into homelessness, and much more.

But as hard as they work, Bright Blessings volunteers say they get back much more than they give - especially James Vinci.

Vinci, 59, is a client of LifeSpan, a nonprofit that supports children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Vinci lives in south Charlotte with his mother, Gloria. He can't read but recently learned to use CATS special services transportation by himself.

He does chores around the house for his mother, walks several dogs each day, loves to play video games and to research roller coasters online.

But since LifeSpan connected him with several nonprofits, volunteering has become his favorite activity.

"Volunteering helps me a lot. I like the people. I like everybody that works here, and they like me a lot here, too," Vinci said.

Each Tuesday morning, Vinci volunteers at Bright Blessings. He is picked up at his door and taken to the facility courtesy of CATS. Each Thursday morning he volunteers at Classroom Central.

Bright Blessings' Terri Springer says Vinci is a true blessing.

"James is my sidekick. He does a little bit of everything around here. He carries boxes for us, makes stickers, stuffs prize bags, stocks shelves and more. And he's always upbeat and smiling," Springer said.

Vinci said, "I don't care what kind of job it is. Any job they give me, I can do."

Gloria Vinci says Bright Blessings has been the answer to a prayer for her son.

"Volunteering has changed him," she said. "It has made a world of difference in my son. It has raised his self confidence and his self esteem. He's extremely proud of himself. He tells me, 'Now I'm a man, I'm really working.' "

On his volunteer days, Gloria Vinci says, her son rises early and goes through his morning routine quickly so he can sit in the dining room, watching for the bus. Being late isn't an option.

"As soon as he sees the bus coming down the road, he'll rush out the door saying, 'Goodbye mom, gotta go now. Gotta go to work,' " she said.

Amy Cervantes, volunteer executive director and co-founder of Bright Blessings, says James is a wonderful example of how everyone can give back.

"James is an excellent example of how individuals with different abilities are contributing to the community through their volunteerism.

The experience also provides them a chance to utilize their skills, make a difference, and feel a real sense of inclusion and belonging in our community," Cervantes said.